A Positive Proactive Response To Activists

The following is an excerpt from the Manitoba Swine Seminar 2009 proceedings. Dan Murphy is a veteran food and meat industry journalist, commentator and author of the book The Meat of the Matter. He outlined to the February seminar strategies animal industry can use to counter animal welfare activists. More information can be found at: www.themeatofthematter.com.

There are three critical steps in a sequence that province the best, most positive results whenever communications are employed to share industry’s message about the value and benefits of raising food animals.

One, acknowledge the validity of the concerns expressed by your opponents, but do so by reframing the debate in broader terms that extend beyond just food animals. That’s a conciliatory position that enhances empathy and “softens” up an audience for harder truths to follow. Think, Barack Obama. His campaign was a masterpiece of using conciliatory gestures as a way to restructure the subsequent debate and help his message resonate with voters.

Two, point out the consequences of the proposed solutions offered by those who demand radical change. If all livestock production were changed to some sort of “natural” system, there would be hugely significant consequences, for example. Everything from the necessity of clearing additional forests to expand arable farmland for food production, to the economic impact on rural communities, to the overall affordability of food in a time of deepening recession would have to be on the table if serious contemplation is given to a massive “makeover” of production agriculture.

Third, and most importantly, outline a better strategy. Here is where education comes into play. It’s neither an easy road nor one with rapid results to be had, but the efforts made to share a vision of how raising livestock contributes positively to everything from good nutrition to energy conservation to wildlife preservation is essential to moving the needle on public opinion about the value and validity of the profession that meat and poultry producers have chosen to pursue.

In any communications designed to advance the educational goals of the industry, I suggest three critical concepts that I believe engage all relevant constituencies in a broader, more comprehensive dialogue and change significantly the perspective – the framing, if you will – of public discourse related to animal welfare and other related issues. In my mind, these three ideas provide powerful, winning positioning for the industry and force its critics to fight the battle on terms favourable to producers, not their critics.

In every position statement, white paper and news release created by the industry, I’d like to see these concepts referenced:

SUSTAINABILITY

This illuminates a fundamental principle of production agriculture. It is symbiotic coexistence with other aspects of farming. Unlike other food-producing methods – fishing, hunting and harvesting of wild resources – that currently sustain two-thirds of the Earth’s population, well-managed, modern livestock production creates less of an environmental impact, consumes less energy and puts far less pressure on basic resources of soil, water, and land base.

STEWARDSHIP

This idea suggests that producers are entrusted with protect ing and preserving the soil, watershed and habitat so that future generations can also benefit from them. Stewardship compels wise and prudent use of resources because the larger community, indeed, all of society, is dependent on the continued productivity of its farmland.

SECURITY

Perhaps the least-emphasized, yet most important concept, security is well understood in terms of terrorism. Yet a nation’s security rests most fundamentally on its ability to provide the essentials of life: food, energy, communications, transportation etc. Industry would serve itself well by expanding the idea of “security” to include domestic food security as a vital component, thus positioning livestock producers as essential contributors to the nation’s highest priority.

No one is opposed to any of these concepts. There is widespread, and emotional connection with the need to conserve resources, protect the environment and enhance national security. The more industry positions in line with those priorities, the more effectively its message is received and remembered.

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